County Clerks perform various duties including serving as clerk of the county and Commissioners Courts and as the recorder of the county. In counties with populations less than 8,000, a combination county/district clerk may be elected unless the voters choose to elect separate offices.
County clerks must be bonded prior to assuming office and must obtain an errors and omissions insurance policy for themselves and all deputies. The county clerk’s deputy and/or deputies must be bonded also by either a surety bond or a blanket bond, as per Local Government Code 82.002.
Most of the current duties of the office stem from an 1846 law that required county clerks to record “all deeds, mortgages, conveyances, deeds of trust, bonds, covenants, defeasances, or other instruments of writing, of or concerning any lands, and tenements, or goods and chattels, or moveable property of any description…” This law also stated that all marriage contracts, powers of attorney, and official bonds be recorded. Today, the majority of the duties still pertain to the receipt, custody, and issuance of a wide array of documents, instruments, certificates, licenses, and other official papers in addition to the clerk’s duties to the county courts.
As clerk for the County Commissioners Court, the county clerk or designated representative is required to attend all sessions and record all proceedings. The office is charged with keeping all books, papers, records, and effects belonging to the Commissioners Court. Other duties may include assisting the County Judge in preparing the court agenda and posting notice for each court meeting. In addition, the clerk may handle correspondence for the court, assist the Commissioners Court members as they sit on special committees, and perform other services requested by the court.
As the clerk of the constitutional county court and county courts at law, the county clerk works with judges, defendants, jurors, and attorneys. These courts include at-law probate courts, mental health courts, juvenile courts, county criminal courts, and civil courts. The clerk’s duties in these courts are varied and include filing cases, issuing processes, maintaining minutes of proceedings, collecting costs and fines, and arranging for commitments and appeals. Jurisdictional transfers between county and district courts are also handled by the county clerk’s office. The county clerk also serves on the bail bond board in counties that have a board. The county clerk is responsible for administering all county and state elections, including early voting and primaries, unless the Commissioners Court has transferred this function to the tax assessor-collector or county elections administrator.
Various statutes, court opinions, and attorney general opinions detail the county clerk’s duty to serve as the county recorder. As the county’s recorder, the clerk’s role is to determine if a document is suitable for filing, and to file, record, and index many different documents. The clerk also is responsible for developing and administering a records management program, ensuring the preservation of valuable and essential records, and cooperating and complying with the Texas State Library. All birth and death certificates as well as marriage licenses are maintained in this office. Additionally, the clerk acts as the liaison to the Vital Statistics Section, a division of the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Other record-keeping duties of the county clerk include recording all real estate instruments, subdivision maps/plats, financial records, elected officials’ monthly reports, federal and state tax liens, abstract judgments, juvenile records, military records, doing business under assumed names, and estray records. Responsibilities also include maintaining records on all wills, probates, deed records, deeds of trust, liens, and abstracts. Identification methods for all livestock must be recorded with the clerk of the county in which the animals are located. In addition, the clerk files marks and brands and forwards copies of the applications to the Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.
The county records manager is in charge of filing and storage of all required county records from 1856 to present and must comply with state records retention mandates.
If a county does not have a county surveyor, the county clerk is to act as the custodian of the county surveyor records.
All county officials who are required to execute a bond before undertaking the duties of office must have their bond kept and recorded in the county clerk’s office.
A great deal of money is collected by this office in the form of fines, fees of court, and marriage license fees. Other collected fees include filing fees, costs for certified copies, court fees that stay in the county, miscellaneous copies, and liquor license fees.
This position requires knowledge of a great many laws, recording fees, acknowledgment requirements, and indexing. County clerks are required to attain 20 hours of continuing education during each calendar year that begins after election or appointment.
By Richard O. Avery, Ph.D., Deputy Directory, Brazos Valley Council of Governments. Mary Lynn Rusche, Gillespie County Clerk, contributed to this article.